When charity becomes a nuisance

beggerEvery now and then I encounter those moments that make me stop to think. It happened again yesterday. I have experienced this situation before but for some reason, there was something about it today that really stood out.

I was driving along Bishop Road in Kabulonga when I almost came to a standstill. I saw a little boy, somewhere around the age of 7-10 leading a woman by the hand approach the vehicle right in front of mine. It became apparent that the woman was blind and that the child was most probably hers. All I needed to do was to stretch my eyes a little further behind them to see three other kids sited by the road side looking over solemnly at their sibling and mother as they begged motorists for financial aid or food.

And then something strange happened. I saw the driver in the car in front of me take out what looked like a K1, handed it over to the girl that was seated in the front passenger seat …she looked about 15-16 years of age. The girl took the coin, looked over at the two people by her window side and then shook her head side-ways before pocketing the coin. At first I was dumb folded. What had just happened? I can bet you that was the same question running through the mind of the owner of that coin looking at his befuddled expression through my windscreen. As fate would have it, just as the pair was about to knock on my window, traffic moved and I was not given the opportunity to either give a helping hand or shake my head like the teenager had.

As I drove off, I was left with numerous questions in my head. I hate it when that happens…and its something that happens frequently! This time, my moral campus was bouncing around hitting all directions. Something had felt off about that whole episode by the road side and the fact that I didn’t know what the right thing to do was made me feel even worse. But I am going to put down all the thoughts that went through my head at that moment and let’s see where that leads me.

My first thought was; it was just K1, why couldn’t the girl give it to them? It must seem little to me but it would certainly mean a big deal to them. But this thought was quickly replaced with, “imagine how much they would make at the end of the day if every motorists gave them a K1? It would be enough to feed that whole family for a whole month or so! Unfortunately, I didn’t like where my thoughts were leading because right after that thought, another disturbing one crept its way onto my brain. Why did the boy drag his blind mother to the road every time they needed to ask for money? The obvious answer I gave myself was, it was a strategy! I didn’t know whether to feel offended or to applaud them for their well-thought out plan. The truth is I felt a little more offended than admiration. Like a bunch of greedy business strategists busy pushing buttons behind the scenes so as to generate maximum profits from unsuspecting clients…except in this case, this family was the business entity and us motorists the unsuspecting clients.

Take the whole family with you, sit by the road-side depicting a well painted portrait of poverty, then send oldest son with a slight walking impairment and terrible mouth infection, let him hold his blind mother by the arm while he begs total strangers for a show of kindness. I mean, who would have the nerve to turn a blind eye to all this? Guess what, that teenage girl did and she is the reason my mind went berserk on me! I will be honest with you, I did feel a lot evil thinking these things but what can I do, once my mind goes out there…there is no stopping it.

At the back of my head, I wanted to give that family the benefit of a doubt; they just couldn’t be that calculative could they? But then, was there any need to bring the whole family to the circus? Well, maybe there was no one to leave them with. Who knows, maybe they didn’t even have a home where they could remain. And what about the boy dragging his mother along every time cars came to halt around that area? Why couldn’t he have just left her there with the rest of his siblings? What was he hoping to achieve having her by his side? It was a perfect scene with the perfect visual effects.

I think at some point I even wondered why a woman obviously incapable of taking care of her own children due to her disability would still go ahead and have so many of them. I knew they were her children because I heard the boy say, “…just a little money to buy some food for my blind mother and young siblings.” Of course there is a possibility that they might not actually be biological siblings…perhaps they all met on the streets or somewhere. But those kids…the little ones all looked about the same age or maybe just a year difference between them?? My next thought of course was that perhaps the woman had been taken advantage of in her condition…probably abandoned or raped by some nefarious bastard of a man…or men and left to fend for herself? I really needed to give them the benefit of the doubt if not at all to make myself feel less inhuman.

So let’s say that I put away all my suspicions because they are really making me look like a terrible person and focus on the gist of all this; financial aid. There is that proverb; give a man fish and you will feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Unfortunately, this is where the lines become blurry for me. It is one thing to have a lazy relative who is always looking to leech off of you all the time and then teach them how to fish…there are many options here; send them to school, teach them a trade, give them money for capital to set up a business…etc. however, it is a whole different story when you are looking at the number of unfortunate people you get to meet every day begging on the streets. How do you teach them how to fish? Wouldn’t it just be easier to give them a dollar and move on or would that also be like feeding them for a day? And so what if I feed them for a day? Another person will come tomorrow and give them a dollar and another the other day…just like that. Obviously, they will have food every single day, isn’t it? But there is something wrong with this scenario don’t you think?

I have had to work hard to be where I am in my life and there is no joke about it. Heck I’M still far from being where I really want to be! I have a pretty good idea of what it’s like to be rich and then be extremely poor. I have seen the best of both worlds and at times I have lived somewhere in-between. This is why I do not take lightly to people that seem fully able-abled loitering the streets and begging for a free dollar when there is obviously something in this part of the world they could be doing to make their lives better. However, I am aware that not everybody is blessed the same way…that even those that might face the same evils will not always come out with the same amount of scratches. I understand that. But still, something doesn’t sit well with me.

I obviously cannot afford to give a dollar to every person I meet on the streets who is in need of one so should be content with the idea that helping one is good enough? And don’t tell me to give money to the church because we all know where that money goes! I am tired of seeing Pastors who claim to be representatives of society’s most vulnerable dress up in Armani suits and other branded clothes, driving around town in fancy cars whose names they can’t even pronounce. I know I just said something daring but I never said all pastors are thieves stealing from the poor. I am not just comfortable with giving them my money believing that it will be used for the right cause.

I am neither a church nor an NGO, so how do I teach a man how to fish instead of just feeding him for a day? This is the question I have struggled with every time I meet someone seeking help on the streets. I never really know what the right thing to do is and the result is always the same; a very perturbed mind. Do I give money or not? And if I do give money, should I do so blindly, not thinking about whether that person is in genuine need of it or if they are just being lazy? Should I just close my eyes to the fact that people without the means to provide for a family just keep on giving birth and sending these same children to beg on the streets? Or that people have now started perfecting the art of begging just so they can deliver the ultimate con by utilizing what visual effects they feel will gunner them the most kind acts? And most importantly, should I even care about who is genuine or not, isn’t the thought the only thing that matters? Should it matter if I keep giving money to the church even when I know that the pastor will use it to enrich himself because all that should count is the thought? Will my giving those on the streets K1’s every time get them off the street or will it encourage them and many other to come to the streets as well? I really want to know the answers to these questions.

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